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From Brooklyn to Boys Town, How Basketball Changed Darby's Knowledge

Darby’s length and ability to shoot allows him to get plenty of chances at the foul line.

This article ​is written by Nick Beaulieu. It was published February 26, 2015 at

The other basketball players at St. John’s rec center in New York City couldn’t believe it.

Knowledge Darby always spent time around the gym as a kid, but he never played ball. That was until one day when a team needed an extra player and he took them up on it.

“I would usually just watch but I wouldn’t really play,” Darby said “Then one day one of the teams was practicing outside and they asked me to play with them. So I did it and from that day you would have thought I would have played basketball for years.

“They said I looked better than some of the players that always play with them.”

Darby, now a junior at Class C-1 Boys Town, hasn’t played the game for long. However, it was a revelation that has led him on a path of self-discovery and growth on the court and, most importantly, off of it.

Darby reigns from Crown Heights, a large neighborhood in central Brooklyn, New York. Born into a family with no father and six other siblings in a rough neighborhood, it wasn’t the best of circumstances. Darby struggled against the temptations that inner city kids often face.

“It’s kind of a rough neighborhood,” Darby said. “Just the people I’d be around, they would have a problem, a violent problem or whatever. Then, you would try and get away from it and it’s like they see you as being fake.”

It was an area where if you didn’t have focus, it could get the best of you.

“They look at you a different way. All your peers are looking at you like, as if you don’t belong. Then you start feeling like you don’t belong,” Knowledge said. “Socially it’s very tough. Sometimes if they see you doing too good, they try and put you down.”

Darby was lacking motivation. He wasn’t even going to school when he was 11 years old. But once his passion for basketball clicked near the end of his time in middle school, it was an awakening for change.

“I was just around the house doing nothing. I would go outside and if I wasn’t feeling in a good mood I wouldn’t even pick up a basketball or even look at

one,” Darby said. “But then I started realizing that basketball was just another way of doing whatever you want. With basketball you can do anything. So I started looking at it that way and realized that to get out, it will take me to the place I need to go.”

As a 6-foot-6-inch kid who could pass and shoot, it didn’t take much to catch the attention of coaches.

“God has given him a basketball body, 6-6 and long,” head coach Tom Krehbiel said. “And he watches and learns and he listens rather quickly. Whether that is TV or watching other people or film or what not, he’s certainly a talent.”

Darby got onto the AAU circuit in New York with one of the best teams around, The City, the 2012 Division-1 AAU national champions. It was that moment when people at large began to notice Darby, or “Spot” as some would call him back home.

“People were coming up to me, saying ‘Spot,’ he can play real good,” Deidra Darby, Knoweldge’s mother said. “Coaches were knocking on my door to get him to come to their school.”

There was one moment in particular where she happened to see the attention Knowledge had created in just a tournament game on the courts in Brooklyn.

“One time, I was going to the store and they were having this tournament in the park. I saw Knowledge playing with this kid and I overhead someone say “the Slim Jim twins are on the court it’s about to get crazy,’” Deidra Darby said. “It was he and this other boy and they we’re taking over the game. I didn’t know he played like that.”

Despite starting the game at an older age, Knowledge Darby has always been associated with high level basketball talent, growing up in the same area with names like five-star recruit and Seton Hall freshman Isaiah Whitehead. But when he joined The City, he was able to play organized hoops with some impressive talent in the college ranks. Teammates like Donovan Mitchell and Wolfgang Novcratz.

It was not only humbling for Darby to see the college offers flood in for his teammates, but it gave him confidence that he could get to where they were going at some point.

“Just being around them, getting a feel for the game and learning from them got me better,” Darby said. “It was very exciting for me to see them do that. To be with such a good program and to know that every day in practice I’m going with them head on, and I’m handling myself the way I should, and the way I know I could. Seeing that, I started thinking maybe I can do this too.” Knowledge Darby, third form left, has found camaraderie as a member of the Boys Town basketball team and as a part of the community in Omaha.

Darby learned about Boys Town through his AAU coach who had a Nebraska connection. After making contact with the school, it became a possibility to make the move to the Midwest. Although the arrangements were nearly perfect, it wouldn’t be an easy decision for either Knowledge or his mother.

“Yeah it was a tough decision, me and my mother talked about it over a whole week,” Darby said. “I just stayed in the house all day. Turned off my phone. Didn’t even go on social media. Just sat down and thought, what am I going to lose going here? But then I compared that to how I was going to succeed by coming here.”

After realizing the benefits and coming to terms with a monumental move, Darby made the call to move to Omaha and enroll at Boys Town.

Although, as soon as he hit Nebraska soil Knowledge knew it wasn’t going to be the smoothest of transitions.

“My first thought here was ‘it’s going to be tough,’” Knowledge said. “I saw from the environment and the smell of the air, it was something I wasn’t used to. I knew if I worked hard I would get used to it.”

And that’s what he has done. The discipline required at Boys Town both academically and in extracurricular pursuits can be a shock for many. It has proven to be a successful model for Darby.

“I think it’s given him structure,” Krehbiel said. “He’s kind of connecting the dots on how important academics and basketball are becoming and that it’s the same thing and you don’t get one without the other. He’s a great kid off the court. He’s a leader. He’s been here a short time but I think everybody has taken a liking to him, which says a lot about him, to be a leader and captain in such a short amount of time.”

As far as the on the court transition, Krehbiel said it has been “night and day.”

“First of all he’s playing stronger and he’s playing tougher which he’s had to do in the high school level,” Krehbiel said. “And just learning to play at the perimeter, learning to play with guys who can do a multiple of things; we have shooters, we have inside guys that do a nice job of facilitating things for us.”

Boys Town is 14-9 and has won six of their last seven games. Both the success of the team and the individual success Darby has had reassured his decision to come to Boys Town.

“I call my mother every day and tell her how good it is here and how glad I am that we made this decision,” Darby said. “And now I call my coach every once in a while and thank him for putting me in this situation to do things like this and be with such good people and have such a better life in a better area In Nebraska.”

Deidra Darby has seen the difference too, and the effects have resonated within the whole family.

“When he came to visit me in December, you could tell the growth. You could tell the difference. It was like a mini grown man has come home to visit me,” Deidra Darby said.

“But we know he’s not mini.”

Even as the youngest of seven kids, Knowledge’s efforts to better himself has inspired the rest of his siblings.

“They see him better and different and it makes them want to do something,” Deidra Darby said. “To do good things.” Darby’s length and ability to shoot allows him to get plenty of chances at the foul line.

As for the future, Knowledge himself is inspired to get to college and not just for basketball reasons.

“My drive is just to get to college. If I can play basketball there, that would be good,” Knowledge said. “Just to make it out and be successful, and get to college and finish and get a diploma; that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

In the process, Knowledge has discovered a newfound ability to learn within a classroom and break out of the mental trap that many kids struggle with who face early academic troubles.

“School is like the toughest because I never really went to school,” Knowledge said. “Coming from that, I always felt like I was one of not-so-smart people in the classroom, but just sitting down the teachers and learning and getting tutored I realized I’m not actually that dumb, I just need to access that part of my brain more.”

Darby said he even thinks he may have discovered a career pursuit when his basketball days are over.

“I’d say a dream job would be an athletic trainer because just getting somebody back to that form where they’re happy with their lives, that would be excellent,” Knowledge said. “That would be a great feeling for me.”

No matter how the basketball season ends, Darby can take solace in a decision that has changed him for the better, a decision that may have saved his life.

“He did a lot of growing up,” Deidra Darby said. “He realized seeing things that happened to his friends with killings and stuff out here, that’s when he realized he had to do something because the same thing could happen to him.”

Even though he’s 2,000 miles away, and may not have known Nebraska existed before his coach showed him Boys Town, Darby said he is happy to be a Cowboy and happy to be in Omaha.

“Before I got here I didn’t know Nebraska from Alaska,” Darby said. “But now that I’m here, it’s such a great place with great people. You can never go wrong.”